Garden of the Soul

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I am thrilled to be a stop on the virtual blog tour for Lynn Serafinn's upcoming book, Garden of the Soul: lessons from four flowers that unearth the Self, to be launched on April 7th.

Following is an impromptu, but very special interview with Lynn, whom I am grateful to for taking the time to indulge my questions.

Insights into the Mind-Body-Soul Connection:

An interview with Lynn Serafinn, author of The Garden of the Soul: lessons from four flowers that unearth the Self

Gina: Lynn, what would you say or describe is at the heart of what you offer as a Personal Transformation coach, and how is your work as a coach reflected in your new book, The Garden of the Soul?

Lynn: Well, my whole approach to personal transformation is summed up in my business “strap line” which is, “Turning up the volume of the music in your heart.” What I do with clients is listen to what is trying to be heard in their heart of hearts, and help them to bring it out so they “become the music” in their own lives. In my book, I frequently use music as a metaphor because I had a long professional career in music for most of my life before becoming a coach. For decades, I struggled and felt frustrated with my music because I never felt truly connected to my own “inner music”. Hence, in spite of working within a creative industry, my own personal expression never fully came out in my life. One very visible and physical way this manifested was when I was 18-21 years old, when I experienced a 3-year bout of stage fright, just as I was beginning my musical career as a classical violinist. Suddenly, I couldn’t stand up and play in front of people anymore, as I became overcome with sense of panic. People might find that hard to believe, as these days I stand up and speak with passion in front of audiences of hundreds of people, and I even host a radio show. The stage fright came from a strong emotional disconnection inside of me, where I could not access my inner voice. My story about the stage fright appears early in the book, in the section called “Lessons from The Rose: The Principle of Giving”. “The Principle Giving” is not merely about being generous; it includes personal expression, passion, life purpose and authentic voice. But while I overcame the stage fright after 3 years, this disconnection didn’t go away, and it manifested in so many other ways, both emotionally and physically, over the years. I share all of this with the reader in my book, along with the lessons of the “Four Principles” of “give, receive, become and be” that came to me as a result of my own journey of personal transformation.

Similarly, in my work as a coach, most people come to me because they know there is something inside of them that is not being expressed in their lives. Sometimes they have a vague idea of what they want, but they lack the confidence due to limiting beliefs. Other times they know that they are locked in a life that is not fulfilling them, but they have no idea of what they want or how to change it. Personal Transformation addresses both of these “stuck” places. I work with people to unmask and recognise their underlying limiting beliefs, to learn how to realign themselves with these beliefs, and to reconnect to their core. When we reach this point, we can see our true selves with clarity. This is when the real turning point, or transformation, occurs, and when the “volume of the music of the heart” gets turned up. It is when we reach this level of self-awareness that we can see our life purpose clearly, and begin to move towards fulfilling it

Some people might think that life transformation is about setting goals and achieving them. Many people I meet commonly imagine that a life coach will set you all kinds of things on your “to do” list. But if we feel disconnected, the last thing we need is another “to do” list. What we need is more “being”, not more “doing”. While working towards goals is very important, if we try to move towards our goals before there is a firm foundation of connection and self-awareness, we tend to become demotivated or overwhelmed. That is why I am the kind of coach who works from the inside out, and I never superficially impose external goals on my clients unless/until that deep, inner connection to their authentic self is established. Once that connection is there, it is amazing how rapidly a person can move towards tremendous achievement that is far greater than they ever imagined was possible.My coaching is extremely fulfilling, but as I work one-to-one it means I can only impact the life of one person at a time. I wrote my book to expand my impact. It is my hope that, in sharing my own process of personal transformation, others might recognise where they are on their own journey, and hear what is calling to them in the music of their own hearts.

Gina: As a shiatsu practitioner, I work with a lot of people whose physical issues seem to emanate directly from emotional trauma. I know from your book that you have personal experience with this, so this part of your life experience intrigues me. Can you briefly talk about that?

Lynn: I write extensively about this in my book, especially in the section called “Lessons from the Daffodil: the Principle of Becoming”. I grew up in an emotionally violent childhood home, and then later had a 22-year marriage in which I was a physically battered wife. However, I was raised in a culture that frowns upon disclosing family issues to others, meaning that from childhood I did not tell anyone what was going on, which is a very common practice amongst people who are in abusive situations of all kinds. People don’t realise how damaging this emotional repression is to them at a holistic level, and that it can actually impact their physical health and wellbeing. If you look at the etymological meaning of the word “emotion” it means “outward motion”. Emotions are meant to be expressed, or to come out from us. When we live in an environment of chronic stress, whether it is at home or at work, emotions such as anger, fear, shame, guilt and grief/loss build up in our system. When our emotions are not allowed to flow (whether voluntarily or by our environment) they have nowhere else to go but inwards. It is my belief, observation and personal experience that repressed emotions manifest as disease in various forms.

This is not some mysterious or “woo woo” idea. I am not a doctor, but I have studied many doctors’ papers on the subject, and I do know that emotions trigger the release of various hormones in our bodies, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Under normal circumstances, these hormones are triggered by the sudden onset of a dangerous or stressful situation, and after the situation subsides, the hormones return to normal levels in our bodies. However, if we live within an environment where we feel like we are on constant “alert”, it means that our body gets flooded with these hormones and they never get the chance to drain out of our system. At first, these hormones can create a sense of numbness to pain, both physically and emotionally. But ultimately, if we live in a continually stressful/repressed environment our bodies, especially our soft tissue, get over-flooded with stress hormones, making it impossible for out bodies to relax, heal, or produce natural analgesics to nullify even the simplest pain. This is what some doctors are now saying causes fibromyalgia, which I had for many years.

Because I lived in a continual state of “alert” in my households, coupled by the fact that I found no means to express my emotions in a healthy way, I was not only in a state of chronic depression and emotional turmoil, but I also began to manifest a range of physical diseases. I contracted fibromyalgia in my early 40s; by age 44 I was nearly crippled with it and felt like I was about 80 years old. The fibromyalgia was devastatingly painful, and it would take me 10 minutes in the morning just to straighten up and get out of bed. I had to crawl on all fours to climb stairs. I felt like I was dying, and frequently told people that I felt as if someone had run over me with a 16-wheeler truck or beaten me with a baseball bat. In addition, I also developed heart palpitations, insomnia, arthritic hands, panic attacks, nightmares, chronic back/neck problems, nearly fatal pancreatitis and gall bladder disease (necessitating major surgery). For years, I had recurring respiratory infections/laryngitis, and for a few years I also had strange, inexplicable occurrences of acute allergic shock syndrome, and ended up in the hospital several times. Then, at age 46, menopause kicked in and on top of everything else I had a whole range of other hormonal issues, and my moods went completely wild. Basically, my body’s metabolic, musculo-skeletal, neuro and immune systems had gone completely amuck. The doctors gave me so many drugs and treatments to help these problems, but nothing ever helped. I tried herbal remedies too. Hawthorn berry helped the heart palpitations immensely, and wild yam and black cohosh helped to stabilise the menopausal hormones, but nothing whatsoever helped the fibromyalgia, sleep disorders, respiratory problems, skin allergy problems or metabolic problems. I now know that it was because I hadn’t gotten to the cause of these problems—my emotions.

In my opinion, fibromyalgia is the inability to withstand the slightest stress, simply because the body is overtaxed with already and cannot take on any more. Conversely, it stands to reason that when you allow the emotions to come out of the body, and therefore allow the body to return to its normal, balanced hormonal state, fibromyalgia will disappear. And for me, that is exactly what happened. I write about this in detail in my book, the Garden of the Soul. I talk about how it was only when I began to speak out about my marital abuse, and share my emotions with trusted friends, that I noticed my physical illnesses started to subside ever so slightly, without any form of drugs or other treatment. Finally, at age 47, I filed for divorce and within 6 months of ending the marriage, the fibromyalgia symptoms and all the other ailments vanished completely, with the exception of the neck problems. Five years after the divorce, feeling otherwise quite healthy, I still suffered from these neck problems, which were so severe that I had debilitating vertigo, migraines and could hear crunching noises in my head due to the plates in my skull rubbing against each other. I went to an osteopath who, much to my shock, diagnosed me with multiple whiplash injuries. Without knowing anything about my personal history, she said, quite directly, that such injuries could only have occurred as the result of repeatedly being shaken or thrown around by another person over a period of many years. Believe it or not, it was only then that I first realised I had actually been physically injured by the years of marital violence. The fact is, stress hormones create a kind of numbness in the body where you do not notice you are being hurt. This is to protect you from going into shock when you are in danger, but if your body is flooded with these hormones at a continual, chronic level, it can also mean that you are actually unaware that you are being injured at all, putting you into an even more vulnerable position. This is another reason why I never sought help or treatment.

I mention this because I feel it is important for people to understand these subtle links between the mind, body and emotions, especially with regards to those who have experienced trauma of any kind. When I first started speaking out about the abuse, many people reacted by saying, “I don’t understand why an intelligent woman like you didn’t just leave.” This kind of judgement reflects the lack of understanding many people have about the intricate connection between mind, body and emotions in trauma sufferers. As a result of these misunderstandings, people who suffer from chronic, traumatic stress feel isolated and cut off from both themselves and others, making it even less likely they will seek help. And furthermore, it is highly important to recognise the fact that it is not only the so-called “victim” of abuse who is experiencing these physical and emotional effects of trauma, but also the so-called “abuser”. In the absolute spiritual sense, neither person is “right” or “wrong” as both are suffering equally, and in need of physical and spiritual healing at the deepest core level. If we as a society allow our moral judgements to blur our vision, making it impossible to see this clearly, healing at a societal level is far less likely to occur. While some people might find this to be controversial, this is why I am taking a bold stance in disclosing these aspects of my own life in my book.

Thirteen years ago, when my rheumatologist diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, he told me I should just “get used it” and said there was no cure and no treatment for my condition. But today, my fibromyalgia is completely gone and the ONLY thing that “cured” it was emotional release, and the deep connection to self that came as a result of my own personal transformation when I stepped out of my “old story” of repressed emotions, and embraced the “new story” (or “true story”) where I fully express myself through my life, my relationships and my work—including coaching, teaching, speaking and writing. I am now 54 and I feel and (in my opinion) look 10 years younger than I did 10 years ago. And the more and more I have learned to “let go” of old emotions, the healthier I feel. None of the past ailments trouble me anymore. Even my neck problems have disappeared. I have learned to recognise when my body is holding onto stress, and I am able to consciously release it.

Gina:You've mentioned (and it has been my observation as well) that "care-ers" are more prone to issues (like fibromyalgia) because of the sense of obligation they feel, as well as the guilt that keeps them from caring for their own needs. And yet caring for others certainly is a good quality. How does one cultivate the balance necessary to nurture self and others, especially if one's nature is that of caretaking?

Lynn: Yes, it is my observation in my coaching that many people who take on the role as “carer” tend to be very resistant to allowing their emotions to surface. In identifying with that role, they commonly experience a sense of guilt if they ever express anything that might be construed to be a complaint. They tell themselves things like, “You don’t have a right to feel what you are feeling” or “You are a bad person” or “You are being selfish.” I call these little voices “monsters.” They are not truths; they are limiting beliefs that keep us in an emotional box where we invalidate our emotions. The tricky thing with carers is that these beliefs appear to be coming from a moral high-ground, and as a result these people find them difficult to overcome. This can perpetuate a situation where they feel miserable or even angry, but they do not feel “allowed” to express it, as they believe it will make them a “bad” person. This keeps them locked within their painful situation, as they feel they have no right to ask for anything. As a result, they can feel so invalidated that they become emotionally numb. However, as I said before, emotions by definition need to go somewhere, and the place they usually go is into the body, such as the endocrine system, the nervous system, etc. It is not uncommon to see many long-term carers suffer from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue (ME), weight problems and irritable bowel syndrome as a result of this battle between their own needs/desires and their inner “monsters” who tell them they have no right to those needs and desires.

So, to me, the solution lies not within the act of caring, but within the perspective the person has about the act of “giving”. In my book, I describe “The Principle of Giving” as anything that comes from within you and expands outward into the world. Too often, we “give” from a place of moral obligation, responsibility or guilt. If giving comes from this place, it is not coming from within us, but is prompted by input from the outside world. This is not true giving. When we attempt to give from this place, we feel drained of energy, because it is not coming from our own energy source. Anger and resentment can build up.

We know when we are truly giving, because it actually fills us with a feeling of being even fuller, the more and more we give. It seems like a paradox, but in order to become truly “generous”, and to feel full, we also have to master the art of “receiving”. In my book, the second spiritual principle is “The Principle of Receiving” which is anything that comes from the world into you. This includes sense awareness and emotions like gratitude, awe, appreciation, relishing, cherishing, etc. Such things are the “food” for the soul. They are like the oxygen that comes into our lungs. When we deny ourselves these things due to our “monsters” that say we do not deserve they, be are cutting off our own life supply at a spiritual and emotional level. Again, this can manifest as physical diseases, because we are not healthy at the core. If we really understand the “Principle of Giving”, we begin to see that it cannot exist without a balance between the “Principle of Receiving”. When we realise this link, and allow the flow to happen between the two, then our acts of giving do not drain us; rather the make us feel full. That is when life really begins to have meaning, and has the potential for great joy.

Gina:One burning question a friend of mine and I were pondering: it seems like people like yourself, who are offering such gifts of wisdom, have had to go through hell and back to gain the insight you've come to. Is this necessary for all of us? Is it possible to be having an okay, maybe not totally great, but not too terrible life experience in order to reach that place of glorious awakening? Do we all need to be thunked on the head by the Universe in order to wake up?

Lynn: This question really makes me smile, Gina.

Actually, the answer to that question lies within each one of us, and is the key to what I call “the path of least resistance to the Self” in my book. It is my belief that the Universal Force (whether you call it God, Nature or whatever) has a natural state for each one of us. Sometimes I like to call this our “life purpose”, but for now, I’ll just call it our “natural state”. I believe that we are only happy when we step into our natural state. There are many ways in which we resist that state, and most of the time it is because we have adopted an intricate system of beliefs (the “monsters” I mentioned before) about ourselves and about life that convince us that we cannot truly live the life we wish to have, or be the person we wish to be.

In my case, I had so many personal monsters that I needed a good jolt. I write in my in “Lessons from the Daffodil: the Principle of Becoming”:

“When we fall into the dreamless sleep of our own emotional anaesthesia, sometimes the only thing that can wake us from our dormancy is a pain so severe we can neither ignore it nor cover it up any longer. And for me, that pain was my father’s death when I was 46 years old.”

I then talk about how this “jolt” woke me up, and I began my journey back to myself. What was required to make the shift back to Self, was to learn how to let go and trust the universe. I finally fully “arrive” in the last part of the book entitled “Lesson from the Lily: The Principle of Being.”

You might choose to look at this process as a “going through hell and back” but really the “hell” was just my own resistance to myself. I could have found my way back home at any time, but this is the path I took. I compare it to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She wanted to go home, and went through all kinds of trials and tribulations to find the Wizard. But then, once she found him she learned that he was not the one who could take her home, and she that she had always had the power to return all along, just by clicking the heels of her ruby slippers together. Returning to the Self is easy, and it doesn’t take a lifetime of self-development courses or hard-knocks. And when you do finally come back home to yourself, you realise that none of the incidents in your life could be said to be “good” or “bad”. They simply “are”. In fact, it is our judgement of “good” and “bad” that keeps us from really being present in our lives, as we continually try to control the world around us, instead of simply stepping fully into our being.

When we release ourselves of judgements of any kind, whether towards ourselves or others, that is when we become free—free of pain, disease and emotional suffering of all kinds. That is when we can ride the waves of our lives with delight, and see them all with equal vision. And if we get knocked off the surfboard, we climb back on and continue the ride. That is the point when we not only hear the music, but we “become the music” of our lives.

**Yesterday, this blog tour stopped by: http://goalsandachievements.com/

Tomorrow, it continues with http://holisticfeathers.wordpress.com

If you would like to receive updates in regards to the official Amazon book launch on April 7th (you can be one of the first ones to receive a book), please visit http://tinyurl.com/lynn-bonus